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CONTRIBUTED PHOTOSFrom left, Saoirse Ronan (Mary Queen of Scotts), Margot Robbie (Queen Elizabeth I), “Mary Queen Of Scots.” CONTRIBUTED PHOTOSFrom left, Saoirse Ronan (Mary Queen of Scotts), Margot Robbie (Queen Elizabeth I), “Mary Queen Of Scots.”

Movie Review: Great ‘Scots,’ Elizabeth I

Thursday, January 10, 2019 by Paul Willistein in Focus

“Mary Queen Of Scots” is bold, beautiful and brutal.

The history-based biography-drama has two extraordinary performances: Saoirse Ronan as Scotland’s beleagured queen, and Margot Robbie as England’s Queen Elizabeth I.

Director Josie Rourke, in her theatrical motion picture directorial debut, directs from a screenplay by Beau Willimon (Oscar nominee, adapted screenplay, “The Ides Of March,” 2011; creator, writer, TV’s “House Of Cards,” 2013-18) and John Guy (“Mary Queen Of Scots” is based on his book, “My Heart Is My Own,” 2004).

Rourke is artistic director of Donmar Warehouse, the first female to head a major London theater. Her productions have gone on to the West End and have received Olivier Awards. She has directed Shakespeare productions for The Royal Shakespeare Company and The Public Theater in New York City.

“Mary Queen Of Scots” is a powerful film of intrigue that will keep you intrigued from its first scene to its last. Rourke sets up a dynamic that is nothing less than Shakespearean in its tragedy.

The plot has to do with Mary Stuart, Queen of France at 16 and widowed at 18, and her return to her native Scotland to reclaim her throne. Mary is thwarted by her cousin, Elizabeth I, Queen of England. Mary attempts to usurp Elizabeth. Instead, she’s imprisoned for 19 years before being beheaded.

“Mary Queen Of Scots” emphasizes events leading up to Mary’s imprisonment. It presents the conflict as, in a sense, a test of wills between two women. Ironically, Queen Elizabeth I was succeeded by King James VI of Scotland, son of Mary Queen Of Scots.

The film deftly sets up the rivalry between Mary and Elizabeth over control not only of Scotland, but of the United Kingdom. Through stratagems, palace intrigue and battles, the line is drawn between the two women in a power struggle. In many ways, the film purports to show that the women were puppets in the hands of male power-brokers behind the throne.

“Mary Queen Of Scots” is bold in its depiction of the personalities of the two women, apparently independent-minded in their pursuit and consolidation, respectively, of power.

The film is beautiful in its depiction of the Scottish landscape (director of photography John Mathieson, Oscar nominee, cinematography, “The Phantom Of The Opera,” 2004, and “Gladiator,” 2000), castle interiors and gowns (costume designer Alexandra Byrne, Oscar recipient, “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” 2007; Oscar nominee, “Finding Neverland,” 2004; “Elizabeth,” 1998, and “Hamlet,” 1996).

The story is brutal in its execution and outcome.

Composer Max Richter (“Shutter Island,” 2010) adds to the martial flair.

Robbie again disappears into her role. She was extraordinary in “I, Tonya” (2017), for which she received an Oscar actress nomination for her portrayal of figure-skater Tonya Harding). Robbie is a Screen Actors Guild nominee for her performance as Queen Elizabeth 1. Robbie conveys the stillness of a stern sovereign who gradually peels away her own emotions even as she dons whiteface makeup to hide facial scars from a smallpox affliction.

Ronan is almost a Joan of Arc figure in her passion for her country and cause as Mary Queen of Scots. Ronan, Oscar nominee, actress, “Lady Bird” (2017) and “Brooklyn” (2015), and Oscar nominee, supporting actress, “Atonement” (2007), is fiercely energetic, a woman of action.

Supporting performances feature a rogues’ gallery of compelling visages.

While “Mary Queen Of Scots” takes liberties with the historical record, it gets to the emotional core of a power dynamic that shaped history. For fans of pomp and circumstance, “Mary Queen Of Scots” takes the crown.

“Mary Queen Of Scots,” MPAA Rated R (Restricted Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. Contains some adult material. Parents are urged to learn more about the film before taking their young children with them.) for sex, profanity, driinking and battle scenes; Genre: Biography, Drama, History; Run time: 2 hrs., 4 mins. Distributed by Focus Features.

Credit Readers Anonymous: “Mary Queen Of Scots” on-location filming included Edinburgh, Glencoe, CairnGorm National Park, all in Scotland; Derbyshire and Oxford, England, and Pinewood Studios, England.

Box Office, Jan. 4-6: “Aquaman” floated at No. 1 three weeks in a row with a still hefty $30 million, $259.7 million, three weeks, and topped $940 million worldwide, highest-grossing release to date in the so-called DC Extended Universe.

2. “Escape Room,” $18 million, opening. 3. “Mary Poppins Returns” flew down one place, $15.7 million, $138.7 million, three weeks. 4. “Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse” clung to No. 4, with $13 million, $133.8 million, four weeks. 5. “Bumblebee” buzzed down two places, $12.7 million, $97.1 million, three weeks. 6. “The Mule” clomped down one place, $9 million, $81.1 million, four weeks. 7. “Vice” slipped down one place, $5.8 million, weekend, $29.7 million, two weeks. 8. “Second Act” stayed at No. 8, with $4.9 million, $32.9 million, three weeks. 9. “Ralph Breaks The Internet” hung on at No. 9, with $4.6 million, $187.1 million, seven weeks. 10.“Holmes & Watson” tiptoed down three places, $3.4 million, $28.4 million, two weeks. 12. “Mary Queen Of Scots” was down one place, $2.2 million, $13.4 million, five weeks.

Unreel, Jan. 11:

“The Upside,” PG-13: Neil Burger directs Nicole Kidman, Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston and Julianna Margulies in the Comedy Drama. A quadriplegic man hires an aide with a criminal record.

“A Dog’s Way Home,” PG: Charles Martin Smith directs Bryce Dallas Howard, Ashley Judd, Alexandra Shipp and Jonah Hauer-King in the Family Adventure. A dog travels 400 miles seeking its owner.

“Replicas,” PG-13: Jeffrey Nachmanoff directs Alice Eve, Keanu Reeves, Emily Alyn Lind and Emjay Anthony in the Sci-Fi Thriller. A scientist tries to bring back to life his family that died in a traffic crash.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes